Behavioural Impacts of COVID-19

The Source
By: Guest contributor, Fri Jan 21 2022

Author: Guest contributor

How has the pandemic affected our behaviour and mindset and what has the research revealed? Are these changes long-term? How can we leverage on the times of change and uncertainty to build a better future, and how can science help us reach this goal?

With the changing landscape of behavioural research in the face of the pandemic, it is now more important than ever to look into how the research community is coming together to tackle the most pressing questions to help navigate our way into the ‘new normal’.

Here we take a look at the latest research and opinions into how COVID-19 has impacted our societies, behaviours and wellbeing. Read more about each piece of research and their impacts on the wider society on the Nature Portfolio Behavioural and Social Sciences Community

Mental health concerns as revealed by helpline calls
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Monitoring public mental health can be difficult, especially in times of crisis. A team of researchers in Germany sought to tackle this challenge and uncover the impact of COVID-19, and related policy decisions, on the mental health of international communities. 

Weeks after the start of the initial COVID-19 outbreak, helpline calls increased by 35% on pre-pandemic levels. From an analysis of the received calls from 19 countries, researchers found that the majority of them concerned fears about the pandemic and getting infected, loneliness, and other health-related fears. Rather than aggravating concerns about economic hardship, relationship issues, and violence, pandemic-related issues seemed to have overshadowed existing problems. Suicide-related calls, on the other hand, decreased with announcement of financial support, implying the impact of financial support on mental health and wellbeing.

Valentin Klotzbücher, PhD candidate at the University of Freiburg dives deeper into the findings of this research in a ‘Behind the Paper’ post on the Nature Portfolio Behavioural and Social Sciences Community.

Read more

COVID-19 and sustainability

At the start of the pandemic, as we avoided travel and stayed at home, we saw how the reduction of travel and inter-societal mobility have temporarily reduced CO2 emissions. Our planet had a brief chance to breathe. Although the reduction in emissions was temporary, it was found that people were more willing to adapt to new, more sustainable practices during times of change.

But will those changes last? For 25% of us - maybe. Dmytro Spilka, CEO and Founder of Solvid, stresses that it is now up to governments worldwide to leverage on the opened up mindset towards sustainability and prioritise an environmentally friendly future.

Read more in Dmytro’s blog post on the Nature Portfolio Behavioural and Social Sciences Community.

Mobility during COVID-19

Following strict lockdowns and restrictions on activities outside our homes, it is not surprising that globally, people’s mobility levels dramatically reduced. Although in many countries these restrictions continued to be in place for weeks, if not months, adherence to the imposed restrictions started to decline. In a study in Nature Human Behaviour, researchers found that although people started to follow travel restrictions less, it seems like there may be a ‘sweet-spot’ of mobility that we can adhere to that is higher than the imposed restrictions, yet lower than pre-pandemic levels. Mask wearing, on the other hand, seemed to linearly increase throughout 2020, suggesting it has become a habituated behaviour.

Anna Petherick, Lecturer in Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford, discusses their research and how it came about in a ‘Behind the Paper’ post on the Nature Portfolio Behavioural and Social Sciences Community.

Find out more here.

Pandemic-driven suicides

Uncertainty and anxiety brought about by the pandemic can have debilitating effects on our mental health. Although during the first wave of the pandemic suicide rates in Japan declined by 14%, they increased by 16% in the second wave, with a larger increase seen in women, children, and adolescents.

A team of researchers from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute set out to uncover why this might be. Despite the reasoning being incredibly complex, the team sought to improve understanding in order to support the design of better support and preventative approaches.

Read more in the ‘Behind the Paper’ post on the Nature Portfolio Behavioural and Social Sciences Community written by Takanao Tanaka, MPhil Student at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and Shohei Okamoto, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology.

Read the Behind the Paper post here.

The pandemic has brought about a lot of changes to our lives. Although it will take a lot of time and research to understand the full impact on an individual and on societal levels, this research is a step towards understanding what we did right and wrong, and how we can do better in the future.

If you’d like to find out more about the impacts of COVID-19 on our behaviour, we encourage you to visit the COVID-19 channel on the Nature Portfolio Behavioural and Social Sciences Community. 


Author: Guest contributor

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